A Mental Health Revolution Has Arrived — And We Need It Now More Than Ever: 5 Takeaways from Project Healthy Minds’ 2021 State of Mental Health Survey

By Dan Hoffmann, Head of Marketing, Project Healthy Minds

October 7, 2021

We are more than 18 months into a pandemic that has exacerbated America’s underlying mental health crisis and revealed deep interconnections between mental health and nearly every other societal issue.

The cultural conversation has changed dramatically in a short time. In the workplace, employee expectations around mental health support have been raised. Some corporate leaders are rising to the challenge, but many are falling behind. Sports and entertainment role models are speaking up and, in doing so, fighting the stigma associated with mental health challenges. Coverage of mental health has increased in the media. It’s being discussed more openly and frequently among families and friends at the dinner table.

But what’s happening under the surface? That’s the question Project Healthy Minds’ State of Mental Health survey — a national survey of 1,300+ 18-34 year-olds in America — aims to answer. Today, just before World Mental Health Day, we’re sharing the results.


On the one hand, the survey findings clearly demonstrate a deepening of the mental health crisis. They show a deeply “Anxious America” and demonstrate an urgent need to expand availability and ease of access to mental health services. (This is why we develop tech, like our new /Guide for Healthy Minds, to make it easier to find help).

But on the other hand, there is a “revolution” under way — driven by stunning findings about how young people see the importance of their mental health that surprised me and our entire team. This prioritization of mental health could have profound and far-reaching consequences.

Here are 5 key takeaways about the State of Mental Health and what it means for what’s next.

1) Anxiety remains nearly universal among young Americans, despite progress on vaccinations and the easing of some pandemic restrictions

  • Nearly all (96%) respondents report experiencing anxiety in their lives today, with nearly half (46%) saying they experience it frequently or all the time.
  • Notably, these numbers have NOT improved since our 2020 survey results. They are identical to what we saw in November near the height of the pandemic.

2) The pandemic has left young people feeling emotionally exhausted and burned out, with young women and the LGBTQ+ community continuing to report the deepest impacts in their lives.

  • 2-in-3 young Americans say they are emotionally exhausted or burned out

Young women report poorer mental health than men across virtually every issue:

  • Nearly 2 in 3 young women rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor” compared to 1 in 2 young men who say the same
  • A majority (54) of young women report feeling anxious “all the time” or “frequently” compared to 38% of young men who say the same
  • Young women are much more anxious about re-entry into “normal” life than men -- they are 45% more likely to report anxiety about returning to socializing with friends in person and 30% more likely to report anxiety about returning to work in person

The pandemic, violence and racial injustices have devastated mental health in the LGBTQ+ community

  • People who identify with the LGBTQ+ community are:
  • 3X more likely to report their mental health as poor than heterosexual/straight respondents
  • 2X more likely to report experiencing anxiety all the time than heterosexual/straight respondents
  • 73% of LGBTQ+ respondents described their mental health as “fair” or “poor” compared with 51% of heterosexual/straight respondents
  • The LGBTQ+ community reported being severely impacted by violence and systemic injustices against vulnerable communities -- showing how deeply intertwined mental health is with societal issues:
  • 86% say recent systemic racism and police violence against Black Americans makes them more anxious vs. 51% of heterosexual/straight respondents
  • 58% say recent mass shootings make them more anxious vs. 50% of heterosexual/straight respondents

3) A mental health sea change has arrived and young people are leading the way.

  • Mental health is surpassing physical health in importance for Millennials & Gen-Zers. Our team was stunned by these numbers:
  • 86% of Millennials and Gen-Zers say mental health is as important or more important than physical health
  • Young people are 2X more likely to say their mental health is MORE important than their physical health

This prioritization of mental health could have profound impacts on who we choose to work for, buy from, and vote for.

  • Who we choose to work for: The pandemic has raised next-gen employees expectations for mental health at work -- more on this in a moment.
  • Who we choose to buy from: Millennial & Gen-Z consumers care about worker mental health when making purchase decisions and are prepared to punish companies who treat workers poorly.
  • 60% say they would be more likely to buy from companies who are known to support their employees' mental health.
  • 73% say they would be less likely to buy from companies whose business practices are known to harm their employees’ mental health.
  • Who we choose to vote for: Mental health is emerging as a potent issue for young voters -- across the political spectrum. They don’t believe the federal government is doing enough on mental health and expect candidates and elected officials to take action on mental health.
  • Nearly 70% of voters under 35 say the federal government is not doing enough to address Americans’ mental health challenges, including 75% of Democrats, 64% of Independents and 52% of Republicans.
  • 68% of voters under 35 would be more likely to vote for a candidate who promised to do more to address mental health, including 80% of Democrats, 64% of Independents and 58% of Republicans.

4) Mental health challenges often run through the workplace -- and mental health will be the next frontier in the talent wars.

  • Work and financial security are the primary drivers of anxiety for young people.
  • 50% cite these as their top sources of anxiety

The pandemic has raised next-gen employees expectations for mental health at work:

  • 2-in-3 consider their mental health when choosing an employer
  • 60% want their employer to prioritize mental health more in the workplace post-pandemic
  • 77% would leave a job if it was negatively impacting their mental health

BUT, there's a dramatic mismatch between what employees expect and what employers are doing:

  • 55% do not feel comfortable talking about mental health at work
  • Only half say their employer is supportive of their mental health
  • Only 32% say their employers have implemented programs to support employee mental health during the pandemic. (Corporate movement has been slow on this -- this is only +7pp higher than our November 2020 survey.)

We believe this mismatch presents either a massive opportunity or an existential risk for companies. Organizations that elevate the importance of mental health by 1) openly and consistently talking about mental health, 2) training managers on mental health, 3) providing resources that serve employees' unique and diverse needs, 4) redesigning employee benefits to better support mental health, and 5) demonstrating that their commitment to mental health is authentic will have a major competitive advantage over companies who fail to meet the moment.

We first shared this playbook for business leaders in a CNN Business op-ed, developed in partnership with leading doctors and mental health professionals at the National Network of Depression Centers, in August 2020: 5 ways businesses can prevent a costly mental health crisis. The need has only grown since then.

5) Role models are critical to shattering the stigma and solving the mental health crisis. We must tap into both aspirational role models, like celebrities, AND relatable role models, like friends and family.

  • 45% of young people say hearing celebrities or other public figures talk about their personal mental health struggles inspires them to improve their mental health.
  • 68% of young people say hearing friends, family members or coworkers talk about their personal mental health struggles inspires them to improve their mental health.

This is why it’s so important that role models in all areas of culture, sports, business, and more use their platforms to elevate mental health issues and advocate for change. Just this year, we saw Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Demi Lovato and many more speak up.

It’s equally, if not more, important that we open up to each other -- friends, family, colleagues, neighbors -- and encourage open and honest discussions about mental health.

Thanks for exploring the findings of the 2nd edition of our State of Mental Health Survey! We’re doing this research to raise awareness and spark conversations because we believe the growing mental health crisis is one of the defining issues of our generation.

If you found it insightful, please help us spread the word by sharing it with friends and colleagues.

Get access to the full deck of findings here.

See the results from our first edition of the State of Mental Health survey here.

Member of the press? Interested in covering results from the State of Mental Health Survey for your media outlet or blog? Email press@projecthealthyminds.com.

For press inquiries, please email press@projecthealthyminds.com